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AUS Tertiary Update

Academics not safe in Iraqi, says unionist
A leading Iraqi trade unionist has told New Zealand university staff that academics in his country face daily threats to their lives, with as many as 300 professors, lecturers and researchers having lost their lives during the period of the United States occupation. In a particularly moving address, Abdullah Muhsin, the International Representative of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers, told the Association of University Staff Annual Conference on Monday that the situation in Baghdad remains grave, with university teachers becoming targets of assassination simply because they are a voice of reason, democracy and human rights. “In this climate of violence and intimidation, being a teacher with a humanist and progressive agenda is a dangerous and cruel job,” he said.
According to Mr Muhsin, the most recent murder was that of Ali Hassan, a young, promising Iraqi social scientist who promoted and campaigned for democracy, human and women’s rights and, above all, stood against the politics of sectarianism and the division of Iraq. He was “brutally eliminated” on 5 October this year. In a further example, he said that an economics lecturer who refused to be intimidated or give in to threats found his obituary in the newspaper. “Other dissenters”, he says, “are beaten, tortured or simply disappear.”
A former student-union activist, Mr Muhsin fled Iraq in 1978 after Saddam Hussein waged his campaign of terror against that country’s civil-society organisations independent of Ba’athist control, including trade unions, student groups and women’s organisations. Although currently residing in the United Kingdom, Mr Muhsin travels regularly to Iraq, most recently four months ago.
Mr Muhsin says that the situation in Iraq is complex and often very difficult. “Higher education has huge problems and the Iraqi institutions lack real solutions,” he says. “The Government, its education ministries and their relevant agencies seem incapable of providing a way out of these problems.” He said it was vital that militias are removed from all Iraqi universities and heads and deans of colleges and universities are appointed on the basis of merit, expertise and accomplishment and not on the basis of party politics or family connection.
Mr Muhsin will address meetings in Christchurch today and Auckland on Friday (details on the AUS website). He will also be interviewed in Kim Hill’s Radio New Zealand National programme on Saturday morning.

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Also in Tertiary Update this week
1. Hodgson points to innovation links in new role
2. One in three has tertiary qualification, says report
3. TEC questions a bit Rich
4. Position on mining degree misrepresented, says NZVCC
5. Hodgson tells National to be patient on funding announcement
6. Protests as Holocaust denier appears at Oxford
7. Few academic research jobs permanent, says report
8. New Australian Government hopes to halt decline in higher education
9. Blog MP shares vision of slashing academia

Hodgson points to innovation links in new role
The new Minister for Tertiary Education, Pete Hodgson, has sent a strong signal that he sees a strong synergy between tertiary education and his other two ministerial portfolios, Economic Development and Research, Science and Technology, in effect creating a new role for him as a Minister of Innovation.
In his first major address to the tertiary-education sector, Mr Hodgson told the AUS Conference on Tuesday that the development of human capital is central to all of his portfolios and that the exciting and challenging prospect for him is to use the opportunity the Prime Minister has given him to explore the synergies that this collection of portfolios offers up. “New Zealanders are renowned for innovation – introducing better ways of doing things and finding creative solutions to problems. We wear this badge with pride across the world and often hear positive comments about our graduates from overseas colleagues,” he said.
Mr Hodgson also used his speech to refer to the importance of teaching, saying that society has always looked to universities to lead the development of tomorrow’s leaders. “The way you carry out your role impacts on the skills, attributes and attitudes students develop,” he said. “Each year, 125,000 students attend our universities. If there is one single factor that will make a difference to whether they do well in their studies, it is the quality of the teaching they receive and how their learning is managed and supported.”
Referring to his own experiences, Mr Hodgson said that those, like him, who have had the opportunity to go to university, will remember the power and influence of inspiring lecturers and the impact they had on the way they thought, how much they learned and, in many cases, what they did next. “That was the case for me at Massey, and at Vic, and as the MP for Dunedin North and the views of Otago academics continue to influence me, albeit informally,” he added.
Mr Hodgson’s speech recognised the contribution of the AUS to the Tripartite Forum, which he described as a commitment by unions, government and the vice-chancellors’ to finding ways of addressing issues affecting the sustainability and effectiveness of the university sector. “It is already clear that the Forum has been, and is, a good thing,” he concluded.
Mr Hodgson’s speech can be found at:

One in three has tertiary qualification, says report
The number of people in the New Zealand population with a tertiary-education qualification is rising, more than one in three New Zealanders in 2006 having some form of post-compulsory-school qualification. According to the latest edition of Profiles and Trends 2006, New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Sector, the proportion of the population without a tertiary qualification has fallen significantly, the proportion of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification has increased in all ethnic groups and the proportion of women who are tertiary-qualified is increasing.
Profiles and Trends 2006, New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Sector, is the ninth annual publication in a series released by the Ministry of Education and provides a summary of the overall performance and key characteristics of the tertiary-education sector. In addition to its analysis of sector trends and performance, the report contains a number of short articles covering a wide-range of topics of interest to the sector's stakeholders and those who are involved in the provision of tertiary education.
Among perhaps the unexpected findings in the report is that the earnings premium for those with a tertiary-education qualification decreased in 2006 compared with those with no qualifications. While the premium is described as still significant, the report suggests that the reason for the decline reflects the strength of the labour market, currently providing greater access to employment for those with no or lower-level qualifications.
The report says that the research performance of the sector improved in several areas, with research training and enrolments in doctoral degrees increasing substantially. Meanwhile, the total research output increased at four of the six universities that reported research outputs in 2006. The academic impact of research by the New Zealand universities, relative to the world average, increased between 2000-2004 and 2001-2005 in four out of ten broad subject areas monitored.
The 235-page report can be found at:

TEC questions a bit Rich
The Tertiary Education Commission says that it absolutely has not spent Commission or government money on staff and partners or friends attending the 2007 Taste Martinborough Food and Wine Festival earlier this month. Some staff attended the festival but completely at their own expense.
Last week, it was reported in Tertiary Update that the National Party Education Spokesperson, Katherine Rich, posed a series of seven written parliamentary questions to the Minister for Tertiary Education, asking, in a variety of ways, whether TEC staff and management attended the Martinborough festival on 18 November. The questions also asked whether their attendance was at a cost to the TEC, how many staff attended, whether attendance was for a work purpose and, if so, what the purpose was, whether travel was paid for and whether any form of allowance was granted to attend.
Ms Rich told Tertiary Update that her office had received information which had led to the questions.

Position on mining degree misrepresented, says NZVCC
The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee says that its opposition to the setting up of a mining degree based on New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) unit standards has been misrepresented.
On Monday this week, the Industry Training Federation of New Zealand said that statements by the vice-chancellors opposing the proposed mining degree show they are sadly out of touch with the needs of industry. The Extractives Industry Training Organisation (EXITO), the body established by the mining industry to address skills issues in their industry, has been working to develop a degree in mine risk management for the last several years. EXITO says it has taken this step in direct response to the lack of interest in this area by New Zealand universities.
NZVCC Executive Director Lindsay Taiaroa said, however, that the issue is not about the mining industry or industrial qualifications, but whether the NZQA is prepared to register degrees on the National Qualification Framework which neither meet the statutory requirements for a bachelor’s degree nor have a provider with accreditation and approval to deliver them. “The issues are complex, as NZQA realises, and at this stage the universities, along with other interested bodies, are being consulted on their views,” he said.
Mr Taiaroa added that the NZVCC is interested in protecting the integrity of degree standards in New Zealand. “NZVCC is responsive to the needs of industry and for many years the University of Otago and later the University of Auckland offered degrees in mining which were eventually discarded because of lack of student demand and employer interest. A wide range of current university degrees are relevant to industrial employers in New Zealand,” he said. “No other tertiary-education provider is allowed to get away with this approach and gain public funding so it is difficult to see why an industry training organisation should be exempted.”

Hodgson tells National to be patient on funding announcement
The Minister for Tertiary Education, Pete Hodgson, has told the National Party spokesperson on Tertiary Education, Dr Paul Hutchison, to be patient, saying that the proposed three-year funding deals for New Zealand’s tertiary-education institutions will be announced in early December. Mr Hodgson’s comment follows a statement by Dr Hutchison, to the effect that the tertiary-education reforms being imposed by the Tertiary Education Commission on polytechnics and universities are so alarming that they have been compared to Labour’s attempts to close primary schools.
Dr Hutchison said that patch-up funding, including the Quality Reinvestment Fund, was being used to prop up institutions starved of funds instead of being used to enhance quality. “Some of our best-performing polytechs, like Southland Institution of Technology, which is losing $8 million in this process, are being sacrificed to save under-performing institutions,” he said.
Responding, Mr Hodgson said that, while universities and polytechnics are currently finalising triennial investment plans with the Tertiary Education Commission, Dr Hutchison is attempting to spread pessimism with the use of a standard doom and gloom message. “The only person who seems unduly alarmed is Dr Hutchison, as the sector has known about the funding decision for some time,” Mr Hodgson said. “If he could just hold his breath for a fortnight he may be able to make a more informed comment.”
Mr Hodgson said that the investment plans form part of wider reforms within the sector which will offer universities, polytechnics and industry training organisations more certainty of funding and taxpayers’ additional confidence that they are getting value for money. “We are also about to pass legislation that confirms a shift towards even greater responsiveness between educators and those they serve. The legislation will also take into account inflation pressures, expected demographic change, student demand and competing priorities within and outside the education sector.” he said.
It is expected that new funding allocations will be announced around 14 December.

Protests as Holocaust denier appears at Oxford
Angry protesters clashed with police on Monday night before an Oxford University student debate on free speech at which convicted Holocaust denier David Irving had been invited to speak. Jewish and Muslim students joined raucous demonstrations outside the Oxford Union, the highly esteemed 184-year-old debating society that has hosted such prominent figures as former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange and United States President Bill Clinton.
The protests turned chaotic when around thirty demonstrators broke through police barricades to launch an assault on the Union building where Irving had taken up his seat several hours before the event was due to begin to avoid any violence.
The start of the debate was delayed as police battled to remove several sit-in protesters from the packed Union hall.
Irving had been invited to speak alongside Nick Griffin, the leader of the far-right British National Party, whose anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views have sparked heated argument in the past. Four others were to debate against them.
Commentators have lined up to condemn the Union for staging the debate, saying the student-led organization is giving a platform to extremism partly in an effort to attract attention. Oxford Union President Luke Tryl, however, has defended the decision to invite Griffin and Irving, saying the best way to counter extremism is to defeat it intellectually in debate. “These people are not being given a platform to extol their views but are coming to talk about the limits of free speech,” he wrote in a letter to Union members who had expressed concern. “It is my belief that pushing the views of these people underground achieves nothing ... Stopping them speaking only allows them to become free-speech martyrs.”
From Reuters

Few academic research jobs permanent, says report
A survey of currently advertised research jobs in United Kingdom universities by the University and College Union (UCU) shows that casualised short-term employment contracts remain the norm for staff beginning their careers, with 96.5 percent of their posts being fixed-term. This is despite agreement between the employers’ body, the University and Colleges Employers’ Association, and the unions which says that “indefinite contracts” should be the normal form of employment.
The survey comes as part of a new report from UCU which shows that, overall, more than two-thirds of academics (70 percent) are still being employed on fixed-term contracts when they start employment. The report, Fixed-term: the scandal continues, analyses all new academic appointments in 2005 (the latest statistics available) and scrutinises researcher jobs recently advertised on an academic-jobs website.
UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said that it is a source of great shame for UK higher education that only the hotel and catering sector employs a greater percentage of staff on temporary contracts. “The widespread use of fixed-term contracts is the unacceptable underbelly of higher education in this country,” she said. “Despite specific guidance agreed by the employers and trade unions to discourage the abuse of fixed-term contracts, universities seem to be ignoring it and persisting with short-term and short-sighted employment practices; in fact it is getting worse. The best brains in Britain are held in positions of insecurity and it is no wonder that they look for jobs abroad or outside higher education.”

New Australian Government hopes to halt decline in higher education
In an immediate-post-election speech, Kevin Rudd, the Australian Labor Party Prime Minister-elect, says he will oversee an “education revolution” to increase public spending on schools and universities and arrest the “brain drain” of talented academics to universities abroad.
Mr Rudd’s statement has been welcomed by the University of Melbourne Vice Chancellor, Glyn Davis, who says the sector now expects “modest” immediate gains for universities. “The test will be whether, over the next three years, overall levels of public investment rise, access and equity improve for disadvantaged groups, student life is restored to campuses and Australia is able to reverse its current overall decline in international rankings of university performance,” he said.
During the election campaign, the Labor Party promised an additional $NZ4.6 million of government support for universities to increase enrolments in priority areas of teaching, nursing and medicine, a plan to lure mid-career researchers home from overseas universities and funds for a small number of research and infrastructure programs.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations attempted to dampen expectations raised by Mr. Rudd’s talk of an “education revolution” by stressing that radical reforms could not be “pulled out of a hat overnight”.
Fielding questions from students on the eve of the election, Mr. Rudd promised to tackle the rising cost of higher education if elected. “This is the beginning of an approach by us which has the affordability of higher education for kids from working families at its core,” he said.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education

Blog MP shares vision of slashing academia
Half the university courses on offer in the United Kingdom should be scrapped and the brightest students paid to go to university, according to a Conservative Member of Parliament, Nadine Dorries.
Ms Dorries, dubbed “queen of the bloggers” after winning a Tory award for her blogging prowess, said she felt the need to set out her thoughts on university education after having been appointed a member of the new House of Commons Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee
She called for an end to the Government’s target of 50 percent participation in higher education by young people and said that the brightest students should, through grants, be paid to attend university and not be put in a position where they start their working lives “up to their necks” in debt.
She said she believed that half of the country’s students are attending inappropriate courses and are being forced into a system of education that makes them unhappy and shatters their confidence and belief in themselves. “Walk around any halls of residence at the moment and spot the unhappy students,” she said, adding that, while her daughter’s room at university was “smaller that a prison cell”, a prisoner would not have had to put up with the cockroaches.
From The Times Higher Education Supplement

More international news
More international news can be found on University World News

AUS Tertiary Update is compiled weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the Association of University Staff and others. Back issues are available on the AUS website: . Direct enquires should be made to Marty Braithwaite, AUS Communications Officer, email:

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